Mirpur, March 1. Sri Lanka have only made 138, but there is life in the pitch, and Nuwan Kulasekara dismisses both the Indian openers in an entirely unT20-esque manner, with deliveries in the corridor, on the full-ish side of a good length. Shikhar Dhawan plays for movement, and nicks one that simply continues along the angle across him. Rohit Sharma drives on the up and nicks an away-seamer to slip. India are 16 for 2
Virat Kohli is on 0 off 4 balls, and Angelo Mathews bowls a tight ball to him - good length, angling into off stump. Kohli had clipped the previous ball - a similar ball - to the fielder at midwicket. This time he waits just a little longer before meeting the ball. Midwicket is square-ish, and there is a man at deep backward square leg. Kohli places his flick far enough to the right of the first fielder to leave him immobilised, and times it so well that the second one has no chance of cutting it off despite only having a short distance to cover to his left.
A stroke of class, a stroke of authority. In the next over comes another. Two strides down the pitch, and Kulasekara's supposedly back-of-a-length outswinger is driven with a whippy flourish to the cover-point boundary.
These are extraordinary shots, beyond the reach of most international batsmen. But, receiving the Man-of-the-Match award, Kohli makes them sound perfectly normal. "Kulasekara and Angie [Angelo Mathews] were bowling well," Kohli says. "I knew I'm striking the ball well, so I have to take the pressure off the other batsman by hitting the odd boundary, but it has to be a cricketing shot."
On Monday, on the eve of India's opening game at the World T20, against New Zealand, it was Kohli and not MS Dhoni who arrived for the pre-match press conference. A Kohli who, as always, listened intently to every question and responded thoughtfully, and at length. Somehow, despite the fact that he averages 117.33 in T20Is since the turn of the year, no one asked him about his own batting.
It was almost as if, unconsciously, they were taking his otherworldly form for granted. That there was nothing left to discuss about it. Just as Kohli himself described his outrageous strokes against Sri Lanka as simply being "cricketing shots", hugely underplaying the difficulty of executing them.
This thought took hold only when you came back to the press box, looked out its glass front, and watched India train on one of the pitches at the edge of the square. Out there was Kohli, facing up to sidearm-aided throwdowns, in that upright stance that makes him look taller than he is. In the space of ten minutes, he launched five balls into the stands, in the arc between deep extra cover and wide long-on. At another pitch on the other edge of the square, the left-handed Colin Munro was also hitting it big, opening his hips from a low, wide crouch and muscling the ball over the legside. There couldn't have been a starker contrast to the effortless ease of Kohli's six-hitting.
Just as effortlessly, Kohli - and to a lesser extent Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma - has carried India's T20I batting this year. Other components have also fallen in place, but the form of the top three has perhaps been the biggest contributor to the team's run of 11 wins in 12 games.
Rohit, Dhawan and Kohli have scored nine half-centuries between them, with Kohli contributing four of them. More impressive, perhaps, is the fact that Kohli has passed 40 in six of his seven innings this year, and remained unbeaten four of those six times. He has twice batted through to the end when India batted first, and twice remained unbeaten in successful chases.
It has taken a lot of pressure off India's middle order. During this run of 12 matches, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni have chalked up 17 DNBs between them. Seven times, one of them has been not out having faced 10 balls or less. All four have played important cameos in the lead-up to the World T20, but the paucity of opportunities they have had has meant it is hard to say who among them is in form and who isn't.
It's a situation reminiscent of the home ODI series against Australia in 2013, when the incredible form of Rohit, Dhawan and particularly Kohli helped India chase down 300-plus targets almost at ease, despite Raina and Yuvraj being in patchy form. That kind of top-order form wasn't to last forever, of course, and India's limited-overs teams since then have gone through a long period of fiddling around to find their best middle order. The search probably hasn't ended yet.
It has just so happened that India's top three have gone on another collective streak of heavy run-scoring. It has happened in the lead-up to a major tournament. Kohli, once again, has led the surge, and has done it with a level of consistency that has made it possible, at least for those watching from the outside, to take his form for granted. How long Kohli can sustain this run, and to what measure, will be key to India's progress at the World T20.